I went with my friend Justin to see The Rum Diary, starring Johnny Depp and based on the novel of the same name by Hunter S. Thompson. My experience with Thompson is woefully limited; I’ve seen Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and that’s all. I feel like I should have read him by now, and maybe someday I will.
Based on that one other Thompson experience, I’ll say that the movie was absolutely recognizable as coming from the same mind; the mood is a rambling, drunken, drugged, yet often profound rush through life with relatively little concern for peripheral consequences. Paul Kemp arrives in San Juan, Puerto Rico to start work at a newspaper there. He’s trying to be a novelist but failing so far; he hasn’t found his voice. Kemp finds it easy to drink & drug with his new friends there. His new boss is not interested in the human-interest, social-justice, exposé-style stories he tries to write. And a new acquaintance wants to hire him to write promotional materials for real estates ventures that will result in the defiling of yet another island of virgin Caribbean paradise. Kemp is not interested in this work; but he’s very interested in the man’s girlfriend.
Kemp and friends get themselves into scrapes; they get arrested, party at Carnival (a Caribbean version), battle the establishment. It’s a story of redemption as well as of drug-addled hilarity. This is a very funny movie. (Look out for the scene involving the operation of a car missing its front seat.) It also offers some serious moments, and seriously cynical ones. My movie date Justin knows Thompson much better than I do, and he feels that this autobiographical work of fiction was a sort of mission statement for the writer. Kemp eventually finds his voice, and I think we can probably agree that Thompson did, too. I thought it was a very good movie; very funny and also very serious and thought-provoking and sad. Also, Johnny Depp was absolutely the perfect choice for the role of Paul Kemp. His wildly expressive, comical face was just right for the character and the movie, and all it had to say.